Friday, June 19, 2009

A Final Word on Terry McAuliffe

I just want to say a few words about Terry McAuliffe.

I have refrained from commenting on the recent primary, but given all the noise surrounding McAuliffe’s candidacy, and several post-election analyses I have seen that I think simply miss the mark, I have a few comments.

First, several of the blogosphere’s McAuliffe-haters have asserted that but for their relentless stop-Terry-at-all-costs campaign, he might have won. Some of these bloggers that supported Brian Moran consider the election result quite unfair, believing they did the heavy lifting while Deeds sat back and garnered the benefit.

Obviously, such speculation, by its very nature, is not disprovable, but my sense it that these folks made little difference in the race, and may even have been a net benefit to McAuliffe (pun intended). While I would guess that the process of writing and posting rants against McAuliffe and his supporters had some cathartic benefit for them, in their self-righteous rage the McAuliffe haters simply failed to bother to lay out a compelling case against McAuliffe. There were plenty of allegations of guilt by association, but little proof of actual wrongdoing, at least as far as I could see. Just reading over comments to these posts on Daily Kos, where they found at least some audience (the Virginia blogosphere having quickyl tired of it), overall opinion seemed to turn against the relentless negativity as time went on – recs and tips grew fewer, even as comment activity raged on -- as with repetition the arguments castigating McAuliffe tended to reveal their flaws more than they magnified their strengths.

As for Brian Moran’s negative campaign against McAuliffe, lame both it substance and implementation, it seemed to hurt Moran more than McAuliffe.

The fact is that McAuliffe had two weaknesses in this campaign that no amount of money or personality on his part could overcome. The first was his lifetime lack of involvement in Virginia politics that left him without a reservoir of emotional and deep support in the Commonwealth upon which to draw. Supporters became enamored of him, but they were never heart and soul in his corner. When Deeds gained some momentum, it was easy enough for them to jump ship.

The second problem stemmed from the first; in order to overcome his lack of Virginia experience, McAuliffe's message was necessarily contradictory. On the one hand, as a Democrat he sought to portray himself as an heir to the Warner-Kaine legacy. On the other hand, McAuliffe also had to run as an outsider who would go into Richmond, do things a new way, and shake things up. He could not logically sustain both arguments.

This was clear in the dispute over payday lending. When McAuliffe criticized Deeds and Moran for their votes in this area, Deeds countered, correctly in my view, that he was tacitly criticizing Warner and Kaine, as well. McAuliffe tried to deny that he was doing so and to distinguish Warner and Kaine’s records from Deeds and Moran’s, but it never made much sense, because the differences, at best, were on the edges.

Most voters, obviously, don’t think that deeply about a candidate’s message or parse it so closely. But voters, IMHO, do sense these inconsistencies on a gut level. As creatures who want things to make sense, when we perceive something that doesn’t, our fight or flight instinct takes over. Since 225,000 Virginian Democrats couldn’t each kick the crap out of McAuliffe, they simply took flight and voted for someone else.

Early in the race, McAuliffe said if he were the nominee, he would be able to help House of Delegate candidates to raise money. He was challenged to pledge to do so even if he were not the nominee, and he did so pledge.

Much more than any help McAuliffe will give to Deeds, I’m interested to see what involvement he has in the less glamorous down-ticket races, and whether his interest will carry over into the 2010 and 2011 elections, as well.

Or will his obvious desire for the spotlight pull him in a different direction?

Depending upon how that plays out, we will find out what Terry McAuliffe really wants, and depending upon what that is, he might find a much more welcoming electorate in 2013.

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